What is the Regional Renewable Organics Network?

    The Regional Renewable Organics Network would take local food and garden waste - known as 'organic waste' - and convert it into nutrient-rich products that improve soil for agricultural uses, and renewable energy. 

    Our proposal would process 40,000 tonnes of household, commercial and industrial organic waste each year, diverting waste from landfill and producing soil products to support local agriculture.

    The soil products have many benefits economic and environmental benefits. They capture carbon in the ground and improve soil conditions, which increases crop production for farmers. Better plant growth also captures additional carbon from the atmosphere.

    The network would also create 2.5 gigawatt hours of renewable energy to help power Barwon Water’s Black Rock Water Reclamation Plant.

    Overall, the state-of-the-art organics processing facility would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce energy costs, keep water bills affordable, provide a long-term, lower cost waste solution for councils and create local jobs.

    We are working with local councils - the Borough of Queenscliffe, Colac Otway Shire, City of Greater Geelong, Golden Plains Shire, Surf Coast Shire and Wyndham City Council - to explore opportunities for processing food and garden waste from households across the region.

    The Victorian State Government has contributed $285,000 to assist with the concept development for the Regional Renewable Organics Network. 

    Barwon Water has already established a successful renewable organics network at its Colac Water Reclamation Plant that takes organic waste from local industry and converts it into enough renewable energy to take the plant entirely off the grid.

    What are the benefits?

    Each year, the waste we generate grows at double the rate of our population.

    By 2046, Victoria is expected to produce more waste than it did in 2017-18. 

    As our region grows, so too does our need for local, sustainable and affordable solutions to managing waste.

    About a third of our household waste is organic material, and most of that is food. 

    When organic waste decomposes, it produces greenhouse gas. 

    When organics are sent to landfill, a significant portion of this gas is released into the atmosphere.

    Additionally, landfill space is running out and landfill costs are increasing, driving up waste costs.

    Barwon Water has developed an innovative solution that will make the most out of our existing infrastructure to tap into the value of waste and deliver broader benefits to our region.
     

    Affordability

    • Reduces electricity costs for Barwon Water, helping to keep water bills low for customers.

    • Provides a local, long-term and lower financial and environmental cost waste solution for councils. 

    Environment

    • Creates 8,000 tonnes of high value, nutrient-rich soil enhancers to support local agriculture, capture carbon and reduce emissions.

    • Creates 2.5 gigawatt hours of clean, renewable energy. This is enough to power approximately 14% of Black Rock’s total energy needs or the equivalent of powering 500 homes.
       
    • Processes 40,000 tonnes of organic waste each year, diverting significant volumes of organic waste away from landfill, reducing the region’s emissions by between 10,000 to 15,000 tCO2-e (total carbon emissions) per year, the equivalent of taking more than 4,000 cars off the road.

    Economic

    • Creates three times more jobs per tonne than if waste was sent to landfill, resulting in 75 construction jobs and 36 ongoing jobs.

    • Leads the way in our region’s transition to a circular economy, where materials are continually reused and recycled to increase their life span and reduce waste, as well as creating a platform for further research and development.

    • Supports regional agribusiness to improve productivity through soil enhancer products.

    • Creates a local organics solutions to avoid waste being transported for processing outside the region. 

    How does it work?

    The facility would work by taking household organic waste, such as food scraps and garden waste, organic commercial and industrial waste, like fats and oils, and potentially organic materials from the wastewater treatment process.

    The process works in two ways.

    1. Organic waste is fed into a sealed tank called a ‘digester’.  

    Natural bacteria breaks down the organic material, much the same as our own bodies digest food, creating a ‘biogas’ made up of methane, carbon dioxide and other gases.

    The biogas is cleaned to remove odours and impurities and used to fuel a generator that produces renewable energy that can be stored and used when needed. This is known as ‘dispatchable’ renewable energy.  

    The solid, organic material in the digester, known as ‘digestate’, is further processed into a nutrient-rich compost that can be used to improve the soils in our region.

    2. In a separate process, organic waste goes through a pre-treatment process to remove non-organic items and to ensure the waste is a similar shape and size. 

    The waste is dried and added to a heated vessel, where the material is  ‘baked’ at a high temperature. When organic material is dried at high temperatures is produces a gas called ‘syngas’ that can be used to generate renewable energy. The heat also destroys any contaminants the waste may have contained. 

    After baking, the organic waste it turns into a solid, granular material called ‘biochar’.

    Biochar is carbon rich and also contains some nutrients that plants need to grow. When biochar is applied to soils there is a noticeable improvement is soil condition and plant/crop yields. 

    We term this process as ‘carbonisation’ because it returns organic material to its basic carbon form and locks carbon out of the atmosphere and into the soils.

    Carbonisation is also known as ‘pyrolosis’ or ‘gasificaton’.

    How is it different to other waste-to-energy facilities?

    The process for the Regional Renewable Organics Network is different to other waste-to-energy facilities that burn waste.

    Our process ‘bakes’ the waste with minimal oxygen present, creating biochar that locks in valuable nutrients and carbon that helps to improve soil quality and agricultural crop production.

    Incineration facilities produce a product called ‘fly ash’ or ‘bottom ash’, which can be recycled into cement products – but they have no organic recycling value.

    Biochar produced from food waste is returned to the soils to support further production of food and fibre and has the ability to ‘close the loop’ for organic material.

    What will it look like?

    The processing facility would be located on a vacant parcel of land at our Black Rock Water Reclamation Plant near the corner of Black Rock Road and Thirteenth Beach Road in Connewarre.

    The facility would be compact, measuring approximately 170 metres by 200 metres. It would take up a small 3.4-hectare section of the broader 290-hectare Black Rock site, representing about 1.2 per cent of the Black Rock site.

    It would include an enclosed shed for receiving and sorting the organic waste, tanks to hold and process waste, enclosed units that produce soil enhancers, generators that transform gas into energy and a flue that releases steam. 

    Most equipment and sheds would be low-rise and range from two to twelve metres.

    Below is a basic image of how the facility may look, however this may change when a functional design is completed in early-mid 2022.

    The facility would be built in a staged approach, allowing it to adapt to changing technology and organic waste volumes.

    It may need to expand in 2032 to cater for regional growth and higher volumes of waste, but any expansion would happen within the existing Black Rock site.

    Why Black Rock?

    There is a unique opportunity to locate the facility on a Barwon Water site to leverage our existing infrastructure and tap into the benefits of using renewable energy to power our energy-intensive operations. 

    By reducing our energy costs we keep our customers’ bills affordable, and by reducing our emissions, we decrease our environmental footprint.

    There are few suitable sites that offer these benefits to the region.

    Black Rock was the preferred site because: 

    • There is land available on the site that is owned by Barwon Water and means we do not need to purchase new land.

    • The Regional Renewable Organics Network complements the existing operations at Black Rock and is zoned appropriately as a Public Use Zone (service and utility), with good road access.
       
    • There is a greater opportunity to reduce our emissions through renewable energy at Black Rock rather than other sites because Black Rock is our biggest water reclamation plant. The size and energy-intensive nature of treating and transporting wastewater makes Black Rock one of our region’s biggest carbon emitters.

      • Black Rock uses about 35 megawatt hours daily, roughly seven time more energy than a typical household uses in a whole year!

      • Renewable energy, achieved through a combination of solar projects, purchasing partnerships with other water corporations and the organics network will help us achieve our goal of 100% renewable energy by 2025 and zero net emissions by 2030.

    • The Regional Renewable Organics Network aligns with potential opportunities for Black Rock to continue to evolve as a world-class facility for clean resource generation, sustainable infrastructure and water security, and a leader in driving the circular economy.

      • At Black Rock, we:

        • Produce recycled water that is used to water sporting ovals and food crops, flush toilets and more, taking pressure off our drinking water supplies. We have the ability to produce up to 2,000 million litres of Class A recycled water a year, the highest quality recycled water.

        • Treat 140 tonnes of biosolids - the leftovers from the sewage treatment process - per day and convert it into rich farm fertiliser.

        • Create our own renewable energy, generated by a three-megawatt solar farm, the biggest of its kind in the Australian water industry.

    We will continue the conversation with our community about how Black Rock may continue to evolve into the future.

    Will it smell?

    Just as you may notice in your own bin at home, raw food can start to smell after a few days. 

    The proposed Black Rock facility is different because organic waste would be delivered, stored and processed inside a building, where smelly air is ‘sucked out’ and managed with dedicated odour treatment units. 

    We will further minimise the smell by processing organic waste the same day it is delivered, as well as conducting regular odour inspections around the site.

    In early-mid 2022, a detailed odour assessment and odour management plan will be prepared.

    We will share the outcomes of our assessment with our community for further feedback in mid-2022. 

    We will need to meet Environment Protection Authority (EPA) requirements relating to how odour is detected beyond the site. 

    With more than 110 years’ experience in managing and treating millions of litres of wastewater every day, we are experts in managing odour.

    Will it be noisy?

    Our concept design includes measures to limit noise, which will be developed further in our functional and detailed designs. Additionally, processing equipment will be located inside to minimise noise and would operate during normal working hours only. 

    In early-mid 2022, we will undertake a noise assessment to measure expected noise levels.

    The assessment will take future and existing noise (from our current Black Rock operations) into account. 

    We will share the outcomes of the assessment with our community for further feedback in mid-2022. 

    We will need to meet strict Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) guidelines to ensure noise, generated by the facility or by trucks entering and leaving the site, is not disruptive to our neighbours or the surrounding environment.

    Will there be extra traffic?

    An initial assessment conducted in 2020, estimated that there could be up to 10 trucks moving to and from the site a day, increasing to 16 trucks a day by 2033 as waste volumes increase. 

    Barwon Water will complete a more detailed traffic assessment in early-mid 2022 and share the outcomes with our community.

    There are currently about 10 – 20 trucks travelling to and from Black Rock each day.

    The number of trucks depends on how waste is collected. For example, if waste is collected from the kerb and delivered directly to our facility, there are likely to be more trucks of a smaller size (resulting in an estimated 16 trucks by 2033). 

    Alternatively, waste from across the region could be consolidated at another facility and delivered to Black Rock, resulting in fewer trucks of a bigger size – typically a ‘B-double’ truck, which has two semi-trailers (8 estimated trucks by 2033). 

    Our estimates are based on the maximum estimated number of truck movements.

    We are keen to understand from our community which option is preferred. 

    All waste collection trucks are sealed to ensure no litter. 

    Trucks are expected to operate on weekdays during normal working hours, with drop-offs expected between 9am and 1pm. Times may vary depending on when residential waste is collected from the kerbside and how far trucks need to travel from the collection area. 

    Trucks are expected to enter the site from Black Rock Road, via Barwon Heads Road, mostly from the west and less frequently from the east.  

    An initial assessment indicates no upgrades are required on these roads to manage additional trucks, but we will work closely with the relevant roads authority.

    Truck movements would commence when the site is expected to be operational in mid-2024.

    There would be some truck activity during construction, from early 2023. 

    We will also work closely with the relevant roads authority to better understand and address local traffic impacts. 

    We value that nobody knows local roads better than the people who live in the area, so we are keen to work with the local community to understand areas of concern and identify opportunities to manage traffic that results in minimum disruption.

     Will traffic impact nearby cycle paths?
    Truck movements are not expected to impact existing cycling routes. 

    We understand that Thirteenth Beach Road, which connects to the Black Rock Cycle Path, is a busy cyclist route and we are keen to work with local cycling groups to understand concerns and identify opportunities for maintaining and improving road safety.

    We will also work closely with the relevant roads authority to minimise disruption and ensure road safety for motorists and cyclists.

    Will there be any environmental impact?

    Barwon Water is a proud environmental custodian. 

    We are leading this project to mitigate the impact of climate change and reduce our carbon emissions.

    Additionally, the Regional Renewable Organics Network would have a positive environmental impact because: 

    • Our process produces clean, renewable energy from valuable waste that, if send to landfill, would release harmful methane gas into the environment.

    • Any gases that can’t be used to produce energy will be cleaned by a ‘scrubber’ that removes harmful toxins and releases clean steam.

    • Through our process of ‘baking’ organic waste, we can lock away carbon in nutrient-rich biochar that improves soil conditions for agriculture.

    The Regional Renewable Organics Network will need to meet to Environment Protection Authority regulations to ensure no damage to the environment.

    Natural environment

    An environmental management plan will be prepared for the site.

    The site proposed for the facility is vacant and we will aim to minimise the impact on existing vegetation.

    We intend to plant additional trees around the site to help screen the facility and blend it with the surrounding environment.

    The facility will be designed to manage stormwater and integrate with existing stormwater management at Black Rock to prevent any runoff into the natural environment.

    The site is zoned as a Public Use Zone (service and utility) and is not listed a significant area in the state planning policy. We acknowledge that the proposed site and the broader Black Rock precinct is on Wadawurrung Country and we will engage with Traditional Owners of the land. 

    Is there a risk it can catch on fire?

    Fire prevention infrastructure and design measures will be put in place to ensure there is a low risk of fire.

    Fire infrastructure will be located throughout the site to prevent and manage fire and requires approval by the Environment Protection Authority and Country Fire Authority. 

    What influence will the community have?

    Barwon Water is committed to listening to and learning from our community as the project progresses.

    We are in the early stages of developing the project and want to hear from our community throughout October and November 2021 to help inform our next stages of planning, which will include preparing a functional design of the facility and technical assessments.

    The technical assessments will provide more information about how Barwon Water will meet to EPA requirements and address issues such as traffic, noise and odour.

    We will share this information with our community and gather further community feedback in mid-2022. We are committed to being good neighbours and working with our community to mitigate any impact.

    There are some aspects of the project we can’t change, including the important strategic location of Black Rock for the facility, its general footprint, and some of technology we would use. 

    We will do our best to take all feedback into consideration, and provide detailed information about the project to ensure you’re informed every step of the way.

    Why is a water utility interested in waste?

    Barwon Water has a proud 110-year history as Victoria’s largest regional urban water corporation.

    Each year, we provide 35 billion litres of water to our region and treat our region’s wastewater (the liquids and solids that go down our toilets, showers and sinks).

    But we are much more than a water utility.

    Water, and the services we provide, are important to the prosperity of our region, and we have a leading role to play in improving the environment, harnessing the latest technology and exploring new opportunities that benefit our region.

    The Regional Renewable Organics Network would be the first of its kind (to produce biochar as well as renewable energy) in our region.

    Processing more waste locally means we are reducing our carbon footprint by not transporting waste outside the region, providing a lower cost waste solution, redirecting organic waste from landfill and creating more than 100 local jobs.

    Through the Regional Renewable Organics Network, we have an opportunity to make the most out of our existing infrastructure and expertise in waste management to turn waste into valuable resources. 

    This will build on the evolution of Black Rock as a world world-class facility for clean resource generation, sustainable infrastructure and water security, and Barwon Water as a leader in driving the circular economy - continually recycling and reusing resources to keep waste to a minimum and grow our local economy.

    The project aligns with Barwon Water’s Strategy 2030, which aims to achieve zero waste, zero emissions and enable regional prosperity.

    It also supports the Victorian Government’s Water for Victoria strategy, which calls on the water sector to adapt to climate change, reduce emissions, maximise the value of agricultural production and harness innovation to support jobs and the economy.

    The Victorian Government’s 10-year Recycling Victoria Policy encourages investment in appropriate waste-to-energy facilities that reduce the need for landfills and a transition to the circular economy, as well as introducing reforms for household waste that will make food and garden organics recovery services mandatory by 2030.

    Will residents need a new bin and need to change the way they separate waste?

    Local councils are implementing different solutions that best meet the needs of their communities.

    Visit your council’s website for the latest information about your local collection service.